Updated October 20, 2018
***This post will be updated with details for 2018 as information is released by Disney. I’ve updated what I can so far with what we know for this season. Otherwise, 2017 info remains so that you can have an idea of what to expect.
What’s more magical than Halloween Time at Disneyland? I dare say Holidays at Disneyland. Imagine the already understood magic of the park with gingerbread smells piped in, amazing decor everywhere and holiday music playing. It’s almost too much for me and I cry every visit.
So, I cry often at Disneyland…..that’s not entirely groundbreaking. But, the holiday celebration at the park is fantastic and something everyone should see at least once. There’s so much involved.
Are you ready? Let’s go!
In this article
Latest News & Things You Need to Know
Get Away Today always has discounted tickets and the best service. For details on what’s currently available, check this link.
The entire Holiday 2018 merchandise collection arrived at World of Disney on October 19, 2018. Take a tour with me to see everything for purchase this season.
A week prior to official opening for 2017’s season, Disneyland was already looking festive. Check that out at this link.
I’ll update this post as information becomes available for the 2018’s Holidays at Disneyland season. Find me on Facebook for updates as they are released.
From November 9, 2018 until January 6, 2019, the park transforms. Beautiful holiday decor adorns every part of the park possible. A 60 foot Christmas tree compliments Main Street with 70,000 lights and 2,000 custom made ornaments. A 50 foot Christmas tree sits on Buena Vista Street in California Adventure.
Disneyland Resort is open 365 days a year, so count on a Christmas visit if you wish, but know the parks will be super crowded.
Both parks have tree lighting ceremonies at around 5pm every day. Carolers walk the parks with hand bells, singing classic tunes, while the trees come to life. It’s a fun event to see if you’re close by.
As always, check the entertainment schedule prior to visiting for specifics on each day’s events and times for Holidays at Disneyland.
Three attractions are completely redesigned for the holidays. They’re limited time. Check them out:
it’s a small world holiday – Hear the iconic song from the original ride along with a holiday medley, as this ride transforms into a holiday treat. The outside is as amazing as the inside. Every 15 minutes, a holiday projection show will light up the exterior of the attraction for a short show, just lasting a few moments. It’s a site to see. Don’t miss it.
Haunted Mansion Holiday – Jack Skellington and friends celebrate Halloween and Christmas all wrapped into one. Don’t miss the gingerbread house in the main parlor and be sure to notice the fresh baked smells, too.
It snows three times each evening at Disneyland. Those times are:
- 6:00pm – for the first official Sleeping Beauty Castle lighting
- 7:30pm – for the second castle lighting (lights will dim just before)
- After fireworks
For the first two events (at the castle lightings), you’ll find snow only near the castle. For the snow after fireworks, you’ll find it at the castle, near it’s a small world, and near the Rivers of America. All three of those areas are recommended for viewing fireworks, as projections will accompany the show along with snow falling at the end.
Note: I recommend – at any time of the year – watching fireworks as soon as possible during your Disneyland visit. The show sometimes gets cancelled due to high winds, so don’t save watching fireworks for your last night there.
There are holiday treats around the park and you won’t have any trouble finding them. This post shares everything you need to know from Disney.
Here are a few spots not to miss:
Holiday themed Beignets – Find these at the Mint Julep Bar in New Orleans Square. They’re Mickey Shaped and totally worth the calories. You’re going to walk 10 miles during a day’s visit anyway. Indulge! 2016 and 2015 included Candy Cane flavored beignets. 2014 had Gingerbread flavored. 2017 includes Candy Cane again!
Jolly Holiday Bakery – The Jolly Holiday Bakery is always one of my favorite stops for dining in general, but their sweet treats during the holidays, including gingerbread men, are so delicious. Be sure to stop there for a bite to eat.
DCA is hosting the biggest party of holiday food this year – Festival of Holidays – with booths set up along the parade route (formerly used near the holiday ice rink and at the Food and Wine Festival). Check out all of those options before visiting. You can find menus for each booth before arriving. I’ll be trying some during my weekly visits, too. Follow me on Facebook to see those.
Christmas Dinner (2017) can be enjoyed buffet style (with Mickey!) at Paradise Pier’s PCH Grill.
New Year’s Eve Dinner (2017) is hosted at Paradise Pier’s PCH Grill, too.
***2017 dates are here! Visit my full post for everything you need to know.
Candy Canes can be found at The Candy Palace (Disneyland) and Trolley Treats (California Adventure). They are serious business, friends. People line up at each candy shop at park opening to receive a special wrist band entitling them to a single candy cane. Take a look at my full candy cane post for lots of information.
The batch time (to pick up the cane) will be given to you when you receive your wrist band and then you must return by the batch time you are given to gather your candy cane, or it will be made available to someone in the standby line.
The park only makes a limited amount each day and the canes weigh in at about 5 ounces, so these are popular items and people know to look for them. If you’re interested, get in line at the appropriate candy shop as soon as the park opens. Wrist bands are typically not given out during extra magic hour or magic morning, so everyone gets a fair chance. (Most dates avoid EMH all together.)
The Disneyland Candy Hotline can be reached for more info on the candy canes and what will be baked each day: (714) 781-0112.
Each cane is $12.99 and annual pass discounts are not applicable.
You will only find the canes at these parks, on the dates listed within this post. Typically, Disneyland candy canes draw a bigger crowd. And, many people think that a candy cane from DLR tastes different from one at DCA.
Dates for 2017 are as follows.
Candy Palace at Disneyland:
November 24, 29; December 1, 4, 6, 8, 11, 13, 15, 18, 20, 24
Trolley Treats at California Adventure:
November 25, 28; December 2, 5, 7, 9, 12, 14, 16, 19, 21, 25
Here is how to get your candy cane:
*Line up at LEAST an hour prior to park opening to have a shot at getting one of the wrist bands. Go DIRECTLY to the candy shop to get in line. People will literally be running. You are technically not allowed to run in the park, so be there early enough to not have to break the rules. Walk fast.
*Don’t get out of line if it looks like you might be too late. Often, they’ll make more than advertising. Even if a cast member tells you that “from this far back, you’ll likely not receive a band”, stay in line. This happened to us and we received bands.
*Be careful once you receive your cane and put it in your locker if you have one. They’re very fragile and will not be replaced if broken.
*Shelf life – once open – is around 1 year.
Visit my Facebook page for a thorough look at how the first day of candy cane making went at Disneyland.
Some photos from a previous experience:
Here is what the line looks like at Disneyland. I arrived at 7:00am to wait outside the gates. They let us in at about 7:45am. Went straight in line – didn’t run – and this is what was ahead of me.
Here is what your wrist band will look like if you’re lucky enough to get one. Each person in line may get 1. You also cannot hold places for others to join you in line. If you walk up to meet your party, you’ll be asked to go to the end of the line.
By the time I got to the front of the line, it was about 7:53am. And, the star on my wrist band notes that I can go immediately to get my candy cane. Not far behind me, other guests started to get wrist bands with 9:00am, 10:00am, etc…….return times.
What’s all the fuss about? This is a time honored tradition with some candy makers creating them for more than 35 years. Disneyland is super rich in history and tradition and the candy cane making each year is a perfect example of that. They’re more than just a super delicious candy cane. They’re part of the park’s deep commitment to tradition.
Take a look at how the candy making process works here:
Finally, don’t miss your chance to look like a fool in the middle of Main Street like me:
Disney Viva Navidad (featuring Three Kings Day Celebration) – At California Adventure, Latino music, dance lessons, festivities, delicious food and more make this part of DCA a ton of fun.
Festival of Holidays – This fun event that started in 2016 is returning and I love it! Enjoy cultural food dishes, celebrate holidays from around the world, see exciting entertainment, shop for goodies and more. Check out this link for all you need to know about the 2017 Annual Passholder lanyard for purchase, what all the festival includes and more.
Holiday Time at Disneyland Tour – For $85, enjoy a tour through the park while learning information on holiday celebrations from years past, ride holiday attractions, see a parade and enjoy yummy treats. Note: I enjoyed this tour in 2016 and was told this year’s version is similar. Check out my full review.
There are two options to meet Santa at the Disneyland Resort between November 9, 2018 and December 24, 2018. Both visits are free and should have PhotoPass photographers on site to take your picture professionally, in addition to snapping a photo with your phone or camera if you wish.
From 12.26.2018 – 1.1.2019, you can see Santa Goofy in the Redwood Creek Challenge Trail area in DCA instead of Santa Claus.
I’m a huge fan of PhotoPass+ and encourage you to read up on what it offers because the images taken with Santa will be available with your others if you purchase the pass. If you do not purchase PhotoPass+, you can still use the (free) PhotoPass card to purchase a print out of your image at the Main Street Photo Supply Company in Disneyland. Or, simply purchase MaxPass to get all of the images from this encounter and everything else throughout your visit. All PhotoPass privileges are included in your $10 a day MaxPass purchase.
You can see Santa in Disneyland in Critter Country at a sweet country setting, as you were able to in previous years. The line is typically longer here than your other option, but the pictures are cute.
Santa at DCA can be found in the Redwood Creek Challenge Trail. This set up far exceeded my expectations. You can see Santa here, find other characters photo ops, play Elf Games throughout the trail, sign Santa’s Nice List and more. I recommend this option over Disneyland and will post photos as soon as my kids see him here.
Find lots more on Santa at DCA from my 2017 visit at this link.
Disneyland Santa is a cute, country style. His park times aren’t always posted, so check the entertainment schedule before you visit.
This year, you should be able to visit with Tigger and a friend, then Winnie the Pooh, and finally Santa in the cute trail found at the back of Critter Country.
Santa makes special appearances at the Disneyland Resort Hotels, too.
From November 16, 2018 until December 24, 2018, find him at:
- Disney’s Paradise Pier Hotel: Crystal Cove Foyer
- Disney’s Grand California Hotel & Spa: Great Hall
- Disneyland Hotel: near the Grand Ballroom
Santa meets guests from around 4:30pm to 8:30pm, with small breaks throughout. The Santa meet ups at the DLR Hotels are open to everyone. You don’t have to be staying at the hotel. PhotoPass+ photographers are typically on site, so don’t forget to take advantage if you bought a package.
Times will increase mid-December to see more children before Santa heads back to the North Pole.
Carolers also walk the lobby of the Grand Californian singing traditional holiday songs from around 4:30pm to 8:30pm. Love them!
Check out what Santa looks like in each location.
The Disneyland Hotel – perfectly retro, just like the hotel:
(That’s not Santa. That’s my dopey friend, Tyler. Santa hadn’t arrived when we visited.)
The Patina Group (who owns Catal, Uva, Naples and Tortilla Jo’s in Downtown Disney) hosts the most darling breakfast each year with Santa.
I encourage you to take a look at what all is included in it and book soon if you’re interested. This event sells out quickly.
Visit this post for all the details.
Shows, Parades, Fireworks, and Hotels
World of Color – Season of Light – ***I’ll keep you updated on the return of this show. Currently, it’s under a long refurbishment with no return date yet for 2018. The always popular show brings a holiday twist with so much to see. Be sure to read up on FASTPASSES and how you can get one to secure a spot in the reserved viewing area. The show, according to Disney, will entertain you by “celebrating the warm and heartfelt spirit of the holidays. ‘World of Color – Season of Light’ will take guests through a sparkling winter fantasy, combining classic holiday songs with memorable moments from treasured Disney animated films to create an experience filled with magic.”
A Christmas Fantasy Parade – This is one of my absolute favorite parts of Holidays at Disneyland. The skating reindeer! The snowmen! The gingerbread men! I could write an entire post on how great this parade is. Do. Not. Miss. It.
For the first time, in 2018, the Plaza Inn will be hosting a dining package that coordinates with this beloved parade. This package is replacing the one designed for the Pixar Play Parade. Other than a tweak in the menu, everything should work the same. I am a big fan of dining packages, so I’m excited about this fun addition. Check out all about this dining package in this post.
My favorite place to watch this parade is from Town Square, which is the section at the front of the park between the Main Street Railroad Station and Main Street.
I recommend watching the second parade (around 3:30pm each day) if possible, as the earlier one (around 1:00pm) is often rather warm since it’s mid-day. Kids are often melting down at that point, too, due to missed nap times.
Grab a spot between 2:45pm and 3:00pm anywhere in Town Square. Then, stick around for the flag retreat ceremony just after the parade ends. That’s usually around 4:15pm. And, finally, at 5:00pm, the tree lighting occurs nearby, too, at the beginning of Main Street. So, from 3:30pm – 5:00pm, you get to see 3 important events all from one great vantage point.
Believe…….in Holiday Magic Fireworks – This show is a big hit with guests and features traditional Christmas music.
Candlelight Procession – This event will likely happen December 1 and 2 in 2018. These are beautiful shows held at the Disneyland Train Station in Town Square and is invite-only with only a few spots left for those willing to camp out HOURS prior – if not the day before – to be part of it. Disneyland is also very hush-hush about how all of this comes together, who is invited and how to become part of it.
The Disneyland Resort Hotels – Each of the three Disneyland Resort Hotels is decked out in holiday decor and if you have the time, I recommend walking over to browse each. You can find lovely photo ops, gingerbread houses and more.
Visit this link to see everything in stock for the 2018 holiday season.
Go here to find the current purchase-with-purchase bag that arrived for the 2018 season mid-October.
On September 15, 2018, Disney opened reservations for Thanksgiving dinner at the Disneyland Hotel. Book your meal at this link.
New Years Eve
New Year’s Eve is crazy, crowded fun. Be ready to brave the crowds and bring plenty of patience.
At Disneyland, you can find the following:
At California Adventure, you can find the following:
My suggestions –
Start at DCA, an hour prior to official park opening, and follow this plan to get the key rides done there and then move over to Disneyland by around 11:00am. NYE is always a risk for the park closing for capacity, so if you want to end the day there, you will likely need to tough through the mid-day crowds I typically suggest you avoid.
There are two fireworks shows that evening, weather permitting. Do NOT destroy your day saving a spot for these shows. First, cast members won’t allow guests camping out all day for shows now, so you’ll be asked to keep moving if you try to set up. Second, each of these shows is only 5 minutes long. Fantasy in the Sky is the first fireworks show that ever played at Disneyland in 1958. It’s a cute show, but it’s brief. I recommend you watch them from wherever you are in the parks rather than setting up for them. If you do want to set up and save a spot for one of the shows, I recommend the area near it’s a small world, as it’s less hectic than Main Street and near the castle. The earliest you can save a spot is typically 3 hours prior to showtime. Cast members will be out ready to answer questions during this time. The fireworks at Disneyland occur at 9:00pm and 11:55pm.
If you prefer California Adventure for the end of your day, head over to Paradise Pier for one of three countdowns on the water. They occur at 9:00pm, 10:15pm, and 11:45pm.
Downtown Disney, which is already filled with plenty to do, turns into a fun place to visit during the holiday season. There are holiday decorations throughout and each restaurant has decor, too.
Catal, located in Downtown Disney, hosts a darling Breakfast with Santa I mentioned earlier with limited availability. Check out all the details and book soon! I’ll be at the first breakfast this year with my family and will share tons of photos from our visit.
- Do not miss Cars Land. The decor here is so amazing and I’ve heard first hand from Disney execs that it’s one of their most celebrated creations ever. Pay close attention to the garland as you walk in. It’s all fantastic. Santa Mater can also be found just outside the Cozy Cone Motel.
- See the tree lighting each day in each park around 5pm.
- See the castle lighting with snow each night at 6:00pm, 7:30pm and then again with fireworks. Ask a cast member to confirm times for your visit, as sometimes these vary.
- See a brief, 3 minute projection show, at it’s a small world every 15 minutes and until close, starting at 5:15pm each evening.
- Choose Santa at California Adventure over Disneyland for both design and less wait time.
- Absolutely do not miss the Christmas parade. Make time for this and schedule your day around it. Grab the entertainment guide on your way in at the turn stiles, so you know how to plan. Choose the late afternoon parade for less sun, as it’s usually quite bright during the earlier parade.
- If you have to choose one holiday treat to indulge in, I recommend the beignets at the Mint Julep Bar in New Orleans Square.
- Slow down and enjoy the entire park as a whole. We often get so busy at Disneyland that we miss the details. I try to take at least 30 minutes during a visit to grab a coffee, walk around, take pictures, and soak up all that I would have missed otherwise while corralling children. Start early each day and arrive an hour prior to official park opening. Follow one of my strategies to get LOTS done in the first few hours. Then, take a break in the afterhoon and relax. There’s so much to see. Enjoy!